Battle of Agincourt

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The Battle of Agincourt was fought on October 25th 1415 between the heavily outnumbered army of King Henry V of England and that of Charles VI of France. The English army prevailed against the heavily armoured French cavalry which floundered in the mud and was wiped out in the hail of arrows rained down on them.

The battle was fought in the defile formed by the wood of Agincourt and that of Tramecourt, at the northern exit of which the army under d'Albret, constable of France, had placed itself so as to bar the way to Calais against the English forces which had been campaigning on the Somme. The night of the 24th of October was spent by the two armies on the ground, and the English had but little shelter from the heavy rain which fell. Early on the 25th, St Crispin's day, Henry arrayed his little army (about 1000 men-at-arms, 6000 archers, and a few thousands of other foot). It is probable that the usual three "battles" were drawn up in line, each with its archers on the flanks and the dismounted men-at-arms in the centre; the archers being thrown forward in wedge-shaped salients, almost exactly as at Crecy. The French, on the other hand, were drawn up in three lines, each line formed in deep masses. They were at least four times more numerous than the English, but restricted by the nature of the ground to the same extent of front, they were unable to use their full weight (compare Bannockburn); further, the deep mud prevented their artillery from taking part, and the crossbowmen were as usual relegated to the rear of the knights and men-at-arms. All were dismounted save a few knights and men-at-arms on the flanks, who were intended to charge the archers of the enemy.

For three hours after sunrise there was no fighting; then Henry, finding that the French would not advance, moved his army farther into the defile. The archers fixed the pointed stakes, which they carried to ward off cavalry charges, and opened the engagement with flights of arrows. The chivalry of France, undisciplined and careless of the lessons of Crecy and Poitiers, was quickly stung into action, and the French mounted men charged, only to be driven back in confusion. The constable himself headed the leading line of dismounted men-at-arms; weighted with their armour, and sinking deep into the mud with every step, they yet reached and engaged the English men-at-arms; for a time the fighting was severe. The thin line of the defenders was borne back and King Henry was almost beaten to the ground. But at this moment the archers, taking their hatchets, swords or other weapons, penetrated the gaps in the now disordered French, who could not move to cope with their unarmoured assailants, and were slaughtered or taken prisoners to a man. The second line of the French came on, only to be engulfed in the melee; its leaders, like those of the first line, were killed or taken, and the commanders of the third sought and found their death in the battle, while their men rode off to safety.

The closing scene of the battle was a half-hearted attack made by a body of fugitives, which led merely to the slaughter of the French prisoners, which was ordered by Henry because he had not enough men both to guard them and to meet the attack. The slaughter ceased when the assailants drew off. The total loss of the English is stated at thirteen men-at-arms (including the duke of York, grandson of Edward III.) and about 100 of the foot. The French lost 5000 of noble birth killed, including the constable, 3 dukes, 5 counts and 90 barons; 1000 more were taken prisoners, amongst them the duke of Orleans (the Charles d'Orleans of literature).

A fictionalized version of these events is referred to in passing in William Shakespeare's Henry V. The "St. Crispin's Day" speech from that work is one of the most famous passages in English literature, and multiple phrases from it have entered into common speech:

What's he that wishes so?
My cousin Westmoreland? No, my fair cousin:
If we are mark'd to die, we are enow
To do our country loss; and if to live,
The fewer men, the greater share of honour.
God's will! I pray thee, wish not one man more.
By Jove, I am not covetous for gold,
Nor care I who doth feed upon my cost;
It yearns me not if men my garments wear;
Such outward things dwell not in my desires:
But if it be a sin to covet honour,
I am the most offending soul alive.
No, faith, my coz, wish not a man from England:
God's peace! I would not lose so great an honour
As one man more, methinks, would share from me
For the best hope I have. O, do not wish one more!
Rather proclaim it, Westmoreland, through my host,
That he which hath no stomach to this fight,
Let him depart; his passport shall be made
And crowns for convoy put into his purse:
We would not die in that man's company
That fears his fellowship to die with us.
This day is called the feast of Crispian:
He that outlives this day, and comes safe home,
Will stand a tip-toe when the day is named,
And rouse him at the name of Crispian.
He that shall live this day, and see old age,
Will yearly on the vigil feast his neighbours,
And say 'To-morrow is Saint Crispian:'
Then will he strip his sleeve and show his scars.
And say 'These wounds I had on Crispin's day.'
Old men forget: yet all shall be forgot,
But he'll remember with advantages
What feats he did that day: then shall our names.
Familiar in his mouth as household words
Harry the king, Bedford and Exeter,
Warwick and Talbot, Salisbury and Gloucester,
Be in their flowing cups freshly remember'd.
This story shall the good man teach his son;
And Crispin Crispian shall ne'er go by,
From this day to the ending of the world,
But we in it shall be remember'd;
We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;
For he to-day that sheds his blood with me
Shall be my brother; be he ne'er so vile,
This day shall gentle his condition:
And gentlemen in England now a-bed
Shall think themselves accursed they were not here,
And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks
That fought with us upon Saint Crispin's day

see Military History